In life, there are optimists and there are pessimists. Some people always look on the bright side of life. While other always see the proverbial glass as half empty. And still there are others that, for whatever reason, are determined to always look at life in the most completely negative way possible.
In the words of the famous Saturday Night Live recurring character: Those negative people are Debbie Downers. Win the lottery? They’ll remind you of the taxes. Marry the mate of your dreams? They’ll remind you that half of all marriages end in divorce. Your favorite college basketball team wins a “must win” game without, arguably their best player? They’ll remind you how this team should have been doing this from day one.
After the Missouri game on Saturday night, I tweeted out: “Don’t ask where this team has been all year, enjoy them now.” When the early season losses mounted, the familiar refrain from Big Blue Nation was, “wait until March.” And now that March is almost here and the Wildcats played their best game of the year, we’re going to complain? Really?
One many levels, the 2012 National Championship team spoiled us. One of the most glaring examples is how our collective view on how teams come together. If you’ve never played competitive basketball, you might be unaware of how much time and effort it takes to become a “team.” Even playing pick up games at the YMCA, it takes time to learn your teammates tendencies, their likes, their dislikes and how to space on offense and rotate and communicate on defense. I think we can all admit that Anthony Davis and company learned at an accelerated rate. This year’s Wildcats is how a team of freshmen is supposed to look.
The sample size is admittedly small, but I would like to know how many teams can replace their top 6 players and not miss a beat. My guess would be, not many. And how many teams would have to learn on the run like this team with the glare of Kentucky Basketball shining and having the target of the “defending national champion”on their back? My guess is not many teams would reach or exceed those mammoth expectations. Everyone knew this team was going to be a work in progress for most of the season, but can we really disappointed that the work has been harder and taken longer than anyone anticipated?
This is not to excuse some of the poor play from this team. Alex Poythress has been wildly inconsistent. Archie Goodwin has just been wild. Ryan Harrow and Kyle Wiltjer haven’t consistently provided the much needed leadership for this team, being veterans of head coach John Calipari’s system. The first half at Florida was horrible. And the second Tennessee game was an absolute abomination. But with all that being said, how good did the Cats look against the Mizzou Tigers? With every reason to quit, they didn’t.
I understand that Phil Pressey got into the lane at will against the Cats. But, he’s done that to a lot of people (averaging 12 points and 7.0 assists per game). And Alex Oriachi contributing 16 points and 15 rebounds made most of the folks in Blue wish he had come to Lexington (as was rumored for a bit this summer). The thing is, the Wildcats got down early. And they didn’t quit. The sequence of the game occurred at the end of the first half. MU’s Pressey hit a three with less than 5 seconds left. The Cats inbounded the ball and Willie Cauley-Stein hustled down the floor to get a dunk as the buzzer sounded. The Cats did not quit.
For most of the season, I’ve heard and seen people say that this team is selfish, they’re only playing for themselves. And I cannot disagree more. There have been seasons where the team that Kentucky put on the floor clearly had tuned out the head coach, where they clearly were going through the motions and were just waiting for season to end so they could go on with their lives. And this team, to me, isn’t one of them. They just needed a leader, on the floor, to show them the way and to hold them accountable.
I’m of the mind that every truly successful team, championship level team, needs “The Man,” a player that the others listened to as the unquestioned leader. Someone on the court that could show the team the way Kentucky Basketball should be played. As Paul points out, when last year’s team need a big play, Darius Miller did it. In 2011, John Harrellson turned in a spectacular post season performance to help lead the Cats back to the Final Four. Until recently, this team was without that leader. Now? I think you should meet Mr. Julius “Big Shot” Mays.
If you’re blueprint for “successful” Kentucky teams are the 2012 and 1996 editions, you’re going to be disappointed. A lot. Kentucky has had two of the historically great college basketball teams. The Wildcats have fielded a men’s basketball team for over 100 years. There are going to be some seasons that have more losses than we, as fans are used to. There are going to be some players that frustrate us because they don’t seem to get it or play hard or whatever. And legitimate criticisms are, I feel, always warranted. But if you can’t be happy that the team’s biggest win and most complete game happens with March and the college hoops post season on the horizon… you’re a Debbie Downer.